Jessikah Hope Stenson
After Laughter there is a moment of experiencing reality, of realising that everything is not as perfect as it seemed and that life is painful. That is what Paramore express in their fifth album with some of their most emotional songs, lyrically and rhythmically, yet.
For the first time ever, the band directly address the departure of Josh and Zac Farro. Where the self-titled record was all “I’m happy now” (Tell Me It’s Okay) and “I’m moving on” (Moving On), After Laughter is painfully honest, with songs like Fake Happy expressing the dark moments they have experienced over the past seven years. In one of the best songs they’ve ever made, Hayley Williams sings, “I’m not your superhuman” (Idle Worship). Yet, through the dancing riffs, digital percussion and 80s-inspired synthesizers, there is really a sense that the trio are loving life, even when it’s utterly shit.
The pop sound that defines After Laughter has been a long time coming. Some of Paramore’s biggest hits since 2009 have been The Only Exception, Ain’t It Fun and Still Into You, with their cheery up-beat tones that elevate the bitterness of the lyrics. However, the most obvious and satisfying change is that the album isn’t conclusive. Self-titled ended with Future, offering the hope of how the group will “get away” and “rewrite the future”. In Tell Me How (which made me absolutely sob on first listen), they address the people they used to be friends with and Hayley sings, “I won’t replace you… Do I suffocate or let go?”.
All in all, it’s everything I could have wanted in a 2017 Paramore album and perhaps my favourite that they’ve ever produced.
Picks: Fake Happy, Idle Worship, Tell Me How
Brace yourselves, Paramore fans, this one is very different.
It’s not accurate or fair to say that After Laughter is a musical sequel to Self-Titled just because they both fall more on the ‘pop’ side of the musical scale rather than the ‘pop-punk’. The new album sees the band making use of the marimba and playing around with unusual rhythms, and will make you want to groove rather than headbang. However, we shouldn’t mourn this change in style at all; in fact, the band deserve brownie points for being able to do both so brilliantly. It is difficult to pin a genre on this album: closing song Tell Me How would fit perfectly onto a Beyoncé record, the intro to Grudges sounds like the soundtrack to a Cali beach movie and the sophisticated pop verses in Told You So would not sound out of place on mainstream radio.
The one constant in this album is the style of lyrics. As always, Hayley Williams has used them as her outlet for negative emotion, with an on-going theme in this album being a rejection of the expectation for celebrities to please everyone and to be happy all the time. These messages of frustrated desperation underneath Taylor York’s sugary, mind-bogglingly brilliant melodies give After Laughter a dark edge that has become synonymous with Paramore, and though the band’s line-up may have changed again, the standard is still as high as ever. Bring on the tour.
Picks: Pool, Told You So, Rose-Colored Boy
After Laughter doesn’t so much mark a change for Paramore, but is instead at times more of a seismic shift into a different style. While there are glimpses of the sound of their previous, self-titled release, that record now seems far more like a stepping stone from their emo-rock roots towards a more stylish, wider ranging set of songs. Some fans might see this latest album as the final nail in the coffin of the band they used to know, but Paramore are counting on the fans having grown with them. If you do happen to be in the previous camp, then Idle Worship is a message directly to you: the band are moving on, with or without you.
Credit where it’s due though, the band (and producer/bass player of the album Justin Meldal-Johnsen) have managed to wrap some serious personal demons up in twelve sublime pop tracks. The guitars are crisp, the rhythms jerky and danceable and Hayley’s vocals as impassioned as ever. There are more influences on show than ever before too; Taylor’s guitar playing lifts a lot from Talking Heads, and against a different instrumental Grudges could almost be a Smiths cut. So the platinum selling rock band have in fact gone pop, literally. Seriously though, it’s a record that’s well worth your time for all its quirks, sugary hooks and surprising emotional punches; like an emo wolf in a new-wave sheep’s clothing, for all they’ve been through they still look, and sound, as wild as ever.
Picks: Hard Times, Fake Happy, Grudges
As one of the biggest rock bands of the past decade, who almost defined pop-punk, you’d think Paramore would have no need for a stylistic overhaul. Their last album Paramore was modern, acclaimed and successful, and it is hard to see the style of After Laughter as an improvement.
This new Paramore eschews its guitars, riffs and passion for a new wave, synthy 80s sound, and irrespective of its merits as an alt-pop album (in which it is still unexceptional), as a Paramore album it is just disappointing. The album cover sums up this difference, looking both ethereal and garishly vibrant, but also diluted and slightly contrived. It is a less predictable offering, at points going into outright odd, like No Friend, a Paramore song lacking Hayley Williams’ vocals. However, for someone who likes the guitar heavy, rock sound of Riot!, the new post-rock, high energy style of songs such as Told You So or Grudges seem lacklustre and vapid. There are better songs on the album, however: Idle Worship has a bit of Paramore’s fire and reflective lyrics, but is not improved by the superfluous accompanying noises. The final song, Tell Me How, is purer, simpler and a wonderful final surprise for long-term fans. Yet I fear the album as a whole will leave fans of the true Paramore, the Paramore of Riot! and Paramore (their best two albums to date) confused and disappointed with the band’s new direction. I doubt I will be alone in returning to those older records.
Picks: Tell Me How, Idle Worship, Fake Happy (chorus)